An's Workshop

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Chapter 2

ARI:

Two weeks prior, Friday November 13, 2065, Ari awoke in Prepurg by a COR rep buzzing on his sphere.

‘You got the job. Report for initial intake at oh-seven-hundred. Bring your ID to the conference hall.’

He was only a messenger, but the boy looked official with his red, standard issue, polo shirt. He waited until Ari nodded, then turned off the video link. A hologram transit token blipped.

It was four twenty am, so Ari hurried to get ready and go. There was not much to do but put on the clothes he had been wearing all week. He brushed his teeth and hair in the mirror they had found near the dump. His reflection was a hybrid. He had square features framing round ones. Above a boxed jaw, he had a high nose but nostrils flattened towards his full cheeks. There was a dual geometry in his face, like da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, circled in a square. Not a true representation but more of a simulacrum, an avatar, and not of his own choosing but a link between the science of genetics and organic flesh. He dripped on the last of the fragrant oil he had been saving for a trip like this-- one for the possibility of work-- and left through the makeshift, corrugated door, sliding it slowly to prevent a loud ‘scritch’ that would wake the bodies inside, and rode the prepaid Hyper Pneumatic Tube Transit (HPTT) into the center, as far away from Prepurg as possible.

As the land shot by through the window, there was an abrupt shift from desert to a long irrigated boulevard with hordes of workers dressed in the same COR issued jumpsuits. Exiting the train, there was another metamorphosis. The inside was covered in the familiar nihilist graffiti. Black triangles were placed wherever the paint would stick, as though everyone needed reminding what was actually in control. Once Ari stepped out, the platform was awash in greys and CORred—as it was called, which was spray paint resistant. After a quick walk down the crowded boulevard, he had arrived.

There were lines of people outside the modern, glass-shard building. It looked dropped from above with long vertical plates of glass leaning against each other seemingly haphazard. Others in line were as poorly dressed as Ari -- the Prepurg dirt and sand now permanently a part of his clothes. They were waiting in the long queue to show their ID and be led into separate rooms. Within these rooms, they had private interviews, and then the filtered candidates were moved to larger rooms for the group interviews.

Once the group interviews concluded, there was the COR presentation. The presentation was forgettable. Babble about the history of futurehouses. Ari was playing a strategy gamescape, Simbleats, on his Soni XPT, one of his two spheres. The reason he had scrimped for it was the high resonance screen for gaming. He was disappointed that it was advertised to be 122mp; it was only 120mp and only if you changed it to manual mode. As such, Ari thought it was a better choice to go to the interview with as opposed to his jSphere Y which was just wrong for the possible futurehouse job, way too gamey. When the instructor-manager, a young woman who said she had only been at COR for six months, asked, ‘What are you doing Ari?’ He said, ‘Researching this place’ and she let it go. At the end of the presentation, there was some confusion if they had been hired or not. Someone had to ask, and the instructor confirmed that everyone there at the presentation, who was everyone at the group interviews, had made it. Some of them audibly sighed as they were issued their jumpsuits.


At the futurehouse, a manager met them at midnight and told them that electronic devices were not allowed in the facilities. There were twelve of them in this new recruit group. They got lockers to put their valuables in and locks to secure them. So when they worked, they would have to go out every time to use their spheres-- on breaks, lunch, whenever they could.

They went through the swivel doors that had large metal bars which interlaced like giant metal fingers.

‘The gate can be locked by security at the press of a button if anyone tries something,’ a large guard said.

Then they saw the lunch room where they would eat their lunch at midnight, and the vending machines where they could buy food if they forgot to bring it. There was the coffee clone to keep them awake all night. They clocked in by swiping their issued ID badge, which was now hanging on detachable lanyards from their necks, through the computers. It thanked them on the screen and in a real voice. And they had to swipe it again every break and lunch because they ‘aren’t paid to eat’. Every time they swiped, they were either on or off the clock and there was a time limit—seven minutes before the hour until the hour, but no later-- or the clock would turn red and there would be a penalty. The clock was ever-present. Then after they swiped, every time they came back into the lunch room they had to pass through the security check again which meant going through the metal detector, taking any metal items, and putting them in the electro-tray for the 3-D scan, to pass around the machine like at an airport. After their bodies passed through, they pressed a button that randomly lit red. This meant a further search, taking off their shoes and being swiped by a hand wand. Every break and every lunch meant going through this procedure, and it was on their time not COR’s. This whole area was called the ‘holding tank’. Thinking of Prepurg, Ari appreciated this military level of security. It meant they were technically safe.

After they got onto the floor, a ‘Learner’ gathered them into small groups. He was their mentor for the day. Aziz couldn’t speak English well, as he said he was new to zone A, but he was friendly and smiled and took them under the ‘Learning’ circle. This was just one of the paper circles that hung down from the futurehouse ceiling in large, red, block letters which read: ‘LEARNING’, ‘HR’, ‘CARE’ and ‘MUSTER.’

It was a dreary night, even though the new recruits only had to work the last seven hours of the ten hour nightshift. They learnt they would be on the ‘donut shift’ which was two days on, one day off, two days on, and then two days off. The fresh Purgs didn’t really fit a mold. They were all immigrants from Eurafrica and Eastralsaia, but there were also some second generation workers who looked down on their luck, and they were different ages from their twenties to sixties, fit and unfit, but all misfits. The only thing they had in common was they had been out of a job, in the Prepurg, and were now terribly excited to finally be hired and willing to do anything. There was some stability in being hired by a large corp because COR was not going under any time soon. Once confirmed employees, only a binary option was computed for work - they could be either in a futurehouse or a factory. Between these two, most people wanted the futurehouse. There was a third level, but those positions were nearly unattainable. They weren’t even positions. It was rumored that those people owned the means to work for themselves.

On Day 1, they were ‘Learning’ and they went to different stations where they learned about safety. Their Learner, Aziz, read down the double-ringed placard word for word in his strong accent. ‘Module 1: how to lift boxes CORrrrectly.’ After lifting, they taped boxes again and again from the left to the right side and pressed the tape gun down hard to release the piece. They swung pallet jacks around an obstacle course as fast as they could while still keeping control. The loads on the jack sometimes fell over and they had to start again. Aziz had a stopwatch to time them. When they placed the pallet down and pulled the jack away at the end of the course, he would click it dramatically and roll, ‘Grrrrrreat.’ They used patented curved plastic knives that made it impossible to cut themselves as long as they were cutting ‘towwwwards…. your…. buuuuddy’ and not towards themselves. He read methodically as he flipped each placard over to the back.

Then they practiced the new tasks so that they knew what to do. It was all very thorough, all in a controlled space that was taped off with diagonally striped, red and black, emergency tape. The most important thing to remember was to keep the products in the ‘safe zone’ directly in front of the stomach when lifting and setting down. This would prevent injury and damage to the product.

On their break, they got to play in the ‘Sphere Zone’. Spheres with gamescapes were provided but secured with cable tethers and shielded from certain interscapes. They could play all through their two fifteen minute breaks and their half hour midnight lunch break. That is, after they clocked out. It was their time, so they could do almost anything they wanted and there were a lot of good gamescapes to try out. There were Nindo and Bbox gamescapes and they were set up for multiplayer. One of the Purgs had told Ari about this zone. He hadn’t believed that a job would let its workers gamescape, so it was one of the reasons he wanted to join—to see if it was true. It actually was true which made him think about what work could be. He would enjoy working. He would enjoy virtually racing, or fighting, or adventuring together with his group of coworkers. They also provide company housing! What more could you ask for?

At the end of his first short shift he clocked out and went through the holding tank in reverse. Ari was lucky because the button on the metal detector didn’t light red, which would have meant a further search. This was random and the only penalty was the loss of time, but this would be time away from his gamescape. At last he passed through the doorway of bars after pressing his ID badge one final time to free the metal fingers one click around.

At his new locker, he got his sphere and felt alive again. The first day was a success. On the COR bus, Ari played Blockcraft all the way to his new standard issue COR home.

Some people on the COR bus talked about anniversaries and Paris.

‘I can’t believe it’s been fifty years since the Change,’ said one new associate.

‘As if you are old enough to remember,’ laughed another, giddy from her first day.

’Everyone knows it was when the Counter-Terrorism Media Blackout started. It was the only way to resist the viral programming. Thank God there weren’t any more Friday the 13ths after that horrible day in Paris.’

The bus gradually became louder. They were all strangers becoming new friends, bonding from the fact that they had been selected to start on the same day in the same cohort. Chatter filled the COR bus, but Ari did not hear their voices. His fingers rhythmically tapped his sphere…

At his new COR home he didn’t even notice his new furniture or the space. He went straight for the Bbox to continue his Blockcraft game on the gamescape.


By Day 2, the protocol was already familiar. Lock up spheres, swipe through the metal revolving doors, swipe the clock and wait for a Learner to put them in groups. But the shift would be eight hours and they would actually work.

Immediately their new Learner, Aion, told them to get a ‘gun’ from the electro-tray. Ari picked one up and found a battery for it. It felt heavy in his hand. She said, ‘Everything you need to know is on the gun.’ So he loaded the battery and waited until it booted up. It was intuitive. It read, ‘Scan badge’ so he pointed the laser to his chest and scanned. Then it read, ‘Go to Level 2, Row 132, B12.’ That was it. That was his job, his life purpose, he just read what to do and did it. But today the Learner followed them just to make sure they understood what they learned the day before. So each of them followed what their gun said. Aion stepped in front of them and showed them her gun. It read, ‘Level 1, Row 110, D12’.’ ‘So follow me’, she said. And they did, like fledglings. She walked quickly, at ‘COR pace,’ she told them. They were already on Level 1 so they checked that off from the gun’s list. They walked down the corridor from 150 to 149 and down to 110; then they tucked into the right aisle to the 12th horizontal shelf. ‘Now,’ she said. ‘I am not tall enough to reach D so I need a ladder.’ She slipped around the corner to pull a small stepladder with two wheels and then placed it the right way, ‘the COR way,’ Aion said. ‘Make sure you hold a shelf as you step up for safety,’ she said. And she did just as she said and stepped up to D. Then she scanned her gun on the right barcode. ‘You see now?’ She showed them her gun which changed. Now it said the product. It said, ’Smith, Adam THE WEALTH OF NATIONS ISBN-10: 0679424733’. (random12) So they looked at the shelf and sure enough there was a relic of a book with that title and it had a barcode. Aion scanned the barcode, 0679424733. The gun pulsed green, indicating it was correct and then it immediately changed to ‘Level 1, Row 133, B12.’ She put the book in her trolley and she was off to put back the ladder. ‘This one won’t be so high,’ she said as she came back to get her trolley in the correct way they were taught. Instantly, she was off to find the next product. The group paraded behind.

Ari couldn’t wait for his turn. He thought he might seek some new tech. Some product he hadn’t seen, only dreamt about. He could see on his gun that his was also low, in the A slot, so it would be in a box instead of just on the shelf. Ari went up a level to L2 and grabbed a trolley. The trainee group followed. He tried to walk fast at COR pace, but he just wasn’t there yet. He found the row, then 12 shelves in. There it was, A12. Ari scanned the box and looked at Sofia. She nodded and opened her eyes as if to open the box. He slid it out and there were random objects in it that rattled when the box was pulled out to its limit. Thankfully not a book. His gun said, ‘Galaxy Bluetooth anti-gravity speakers 134123443.’ He dug through the box to find the speakers. There was a Meli and Dougal plastic game for children, a personal laser massager, a pair of unique hand knit crazy socks that didn’t match but were the same general colors, and a die that had another die within it and then another die within that, among other items he didn’t pay much attention to. He found the speakers. COR didn’t provide Bluetooth anti-gravity speakers at his new COR home. How light were they to hover? How easy were they to connect? Would they sound good if he played say HALI36 on them? Would it sound closer to real than his configuration now? He wanted them. He wanted to add them to his system now. He wanted to know at least some of the answers to his questions immediately. So he stopped to look at the product a second.

‘No,’ said Aion. ‘You haven’t time for that. You have to go to the next item to keep up your rate.’

He stopped again, puzzled, ‘How do I know my rate?’

‘It has to be better than at least 100. You are compared to the others on your shift. All I can say is don’t be in the bottom group. You can get a rough idea here.’ She pressed H4 on the gun and his rate came up at 30. ‘Let’s go,’ she said. ‘You are 70 short,’ and they were off to the next row, shelf, scan, and product.

Soon after, all of the new recruits dispersed down the long corridors that seemed to disappear from view, but each of them was alone now. There were no excited voices discussing ways to speed up. They were no longer a group and only saw each other once or twice between corridors if they were in the same area. All he could hear was the conveyer belt motor clicking each rotation and the hum of the fluorescent lights. The new associates all might have been on different floors. They were now also mixed with the veterans who were racing in and out of the aisles. The futurehouse was a hive of activity but it was so large that almost no one was in sight.

The lights of each aisle only came on when someone was in them, to save energy, and some falsely delayed in sensing movement so that at times Ari was in the dark. If it wasn’t for the laser of the gun he turned on to see like a flashlight, Ari would be completely in the dark. It was eerie when everything glowed from the laser. Then the long, fluorescent light above clicked on. The click was loud through the hum of the futurehouse. The same click in the hum that sounded in his mind as the learner Aziz flipped over the plastic placard and began to drone on.

He found his number, scanned the barcode, and opened the box of randoms. Parts for a remote control toy, a solid state drive, a pair of plastic shoes, a doll made to look antique, and then what he was looking for-- a Spiderman8 coin shuriken, wedged way down against the cardboard bottom of the box. Ari thought the reason the products were so random was to make them easier to find and therefore speed up the work. If they were all similar it would take longer to discern between them and they would be more difficult to find. Only the algorithm on the gun could locate a specific item. Loss prevention. Less stealing.

Soon it was six fifty-eight and that meant it was time to put back the gun. He put the battery on the recharger, clocked out, and went through the detector. When he pressed the random-check button, it did not change to red, so he went directly through the barred circular gate. He finished his last scan -- the gun pointed towards his chest - at his barcode this time-- and then he was back in the daylight of his jsphere Y for fun and gamescapes-- back to life.


Day 3 meant a real shift. Ten hours of work now made Ari part of the regular workforce. If Ari could endure this then he had made it. His rate was still not up to one hundred, but COR gave new associates a few weeks to ramp up before they clamped down on the outliers.

They were all each other’s’ competition. It was a nightly Darwinian experiment played out on the ‘killing floor’, as some veteran associates called it. He had briefly chatted with some of the people around but they were faced with the same dilemma as him; no time to really talk - just passing smirks and quips.

He used the facilities only because he desperately needed to. As he went in, Amie came out and said, ‘They make bytecoins while I make bitdimes. That’s why I crap on company time.’ He cracked a smile to her jingle and wondered how long she had waited to use that constipated joke. Ari laughed at his own smug, inner party, and no one heard. As soon as he was done, he picked up his gun, rolled his trolley and paced back to work.

Everything was timed on the gun. The Learners knew where they were at all times from the data relayed instantly from the gun. They knew how long it took between scanning items. They knew if associates took a break that was too long. They knew when and how long they went to the bathroom. There was a kind of way around this though. Ari noticed they also got breaks just by accident. Sometimes items were closer together. Sometimes there was more than one item to get from the same shelf or box. If a buyer ordered say ten of the same item and these items were in one location, their rate would automatically jump. It seemed their system didn’t take this into account. It didn’t take these gifts into consideration. So one could say their rate was affected by luck to some degree.

He sped around Level 3, the top floor. There was a ghostly quality to the fluorescent lights directly above him. The lights radiated their dull glow over row upon row of products.

Who was buying all the things he put in his trolley? L3, R140, C5 And who was the slave here? L3, R140, C5 Was it him up all night to make money to survive? L3, R140, C5 Or was it the buyers up all night purchasing what they hoped would fulfill their needs—make them happy? L3, R140, C5 Who was the patsy in this multi-player game? Repeating the coded locations soon chased those curiosities from his mind. He scanned L3, R140, C5. It was a green plastic army man with the barcode sticker on his boot.

Ari paused for an instant by the railing, peering down over the whole operation from the top floor. He took a long look to panorama the activity and machines below. The futurehouse was split in half with three levels of continuous shelves on one half, larger than any library you could imagine. The other half was only one level but the same amount of floor space. This was for packing and shipping. Yesterday he overheard in the sphere zone that once an associate paced at COR speed from one end to the other and it took just under three minutes. There were four assembly lines on which the totes ran down when they were full of items. These moved to the packers who taped them in boxes to send out to the buyers. The packers had to be fast, but not as fast as the seekers. They could put multiple items into single boxes. He looked down and saw one packer who was slower than all the rest. Ari didn’t think she would make it. They would eventually cut the slow packers just like they would cut the slower of the seekers. It might also depend on demand and how many people were buying. It was the busy season now. That’s why COR had hired them, but when it slowed they would cut. Those who were cut would be forced back to Prepurg.

He scanned a shelf; it was another book. The bold italics said: White Noise Delillo. (random13)

He opened it. The spine was stiff and made a cracking noise as if to break. The words were cryptic:

The power of the dead is that we think they see us all the time. The dead have a presence. Is there a level of energy composed solely of the dead? They are also in the ground, of course, asleep and crumbling. Perhaps we are what they dream.

Who would write a book, a big book, about noise and how could it be white? He thought, books are stupid. They make no sense and they aren’t immediate like a game or your sphere. If you want an answer you just google2 it and there it is. He could read this whole massive book on white noise and never know what to think about or ever learn what white noise is. It is just a world that someone created that is not as real as the many virtual worlds in gamescapes like Blockcraft. It is all in the head, not out here on your screen. Whoever wrote it is questioning too. He doesn’t know.

‘This is no answer. It is nonsense. We are not dreams. We are real…’
A Learner floats by, ‘Ari, you don’t have time to read…or talk.’

He snapped the book shut and dropped it in his tote. Just as he was about to push his cart away, he looked down to the level below. She seemed tiny way down there, nearly still. She was sweeping her little area. He focused on her. She stooped, noticed and looked up at him from the artificial shade of the rubber conveyer line. Her mousy hair was put up behind her in a ponytail according to the mandatory regulations but in a sloppy way. There were some wisps that fell out around the curve of her jaw. She smiled with a glint of white. One eye was nearly white. At least her teeth and eye looked white from the distance. She looked like an avatar in a gamescape but he couldn’t place it. In one motion, he pivoted around the aisle, glanced at the gun for the next row, and tried his best at a grin back. There was no time.

He kept thinking of that pale eye and teeth the rest of the night. They whispered something to him. They were teeth that were not afraid to bite. They were telling him something. He wondered why she never came to the sphere zone where all the rest of them gamed on the breaks. Where did she lunch at midnight? It was only his third day, but he knew she was so slow she would be gone soon.

It was break. It went by too quickly. After breaks and lunch, they always met for the Quick 5. First, the managers told them how their shift was doing. What the shift goal was. How many orders and implicitly, where the door was if they didn’t make rate. Game over. There were incentives sometimes. HR could give a movie pass to the fastest worker of the night. Sometimes there was a random draw. Second, they did stretches and they all called out the number of each one. The repetitions only went to 5 so they were not sure how much the exercises benefited them, and there were also only 5 stretches. Shoulders, locking arms, calves, combination wrists and lunge, and then the squat. When they got up from the squat they said their cheer. It was never the same. They made it up when they were down squatting. Sometimes it was a number-- maybe the goal for the amount of production for the night, or sometimes how many days without CARE since the last associate got hurt. Safety was the number one concern. Because the packers had their separate Quick 5, he never saw her here.

After the second break it was only another three and a half hours until seven. This part was the most difficult because sleep was so close. It was a Zeldan fight to dawn and Ganon was sleep. That was the positive way he looked at it. He was simply playing a different kind of gamescape. He had a gun and a laser. Ari raced and did his tasks as fast as he could. He got rewards. He got paid. Yet it wasn’t as addictive. It was more boring than exciting, but there was a strategy to it all. His rate slowed the closer he got to seven o’clock so he had to go fast at the very beginning of the shift to average it all out. It was a numbers game at the end of the day-- to make sure the rate was good enough to continue on to the next shift, the next level.

And then it was seven. He logged off exactly at seven so that there was no confusion in the system. He dropped off the tote on the rubber conveyer which had promptly stopped at seven on the dot to save energy. He placed his trolley among the others in the red section that was taped off on the floor for the safety of all associates. Ari was still not at rate, but then again he was still on probation and it didn’t matter yet. He took out the battery to recharge it and put the gun back in the rack. Then he went to the holding tank. He swiped his badge and took out his wallet to go through the detector. After he cleared, he hit the random button and it lit red.

Did this have to happen today? Now he had to sit down in the smaller holding zone, take off his boots, and empty his pockets. The guard swiped around his stinking socks with the wand, then around his kevlar shoes while he stood up in the designated halogen circle. He opened his wallet to show the guard what was inside. Just a game token card and a wrinkled good luck bill from Nicaragua. There was a zipper in the billfold. The guard asked Ari to open it, so he could look inside there too. What could Ari possibly pillage in such a small space? Perhaps a diamond ring from the high valuables area? Fair enough. The wand didn’t beep as it waved around the wallet.

Just as the guard nodded at him that he was cleared, she glided through, fast. Faster than he had seen anyone move through security. She swiped through the bars and she was gone much quicker than he could put his boots back on and catch up. But he caught a better glimpse of her freckled, sunless skin, as her light-blue eye glanced back at him against the dawn.


He needed his sphere. He really needed his sphere. He wouldn’t be able to sleep right away now. On the way to the COR bus he got all queued up. An epic sesh of World of Blockcraft was about to go down. He was fired up. There wouldn’t be many of his online friends on now, just the ones who had been up all night gamescaping but that might be better. They would be tired and easier to defeat. On the bus, he texted Ali00p and JJ32 to see if they were playing. JJ32 was on before but must be asleep already. Ari forgot that JJ was three hours ahead on the far coast. Ali00p had just got off shift too.

By the time he got back to COR home, it was all set up. He slid into his homemade cockpit. He had picked the best gamescape option available to COR home, but it would come out of his paycheck. 10.4 surround sound K82828F speakers, rounded out with some smaller BComparion 978s, strategically set in the foreground and background. The pod was an anti-sensory deprivation spiritual transcendent version. It was all immersive. Loud. Eardrum-piercing loud. He was still wondering if those anti-gravity Bluetooths would bring him a purer experience. The visuals wrapped around him like a cocoon. When he flew in HALO13 there were clouds and wind whispering below him. When he shot in a FPS gamescape the whole pod shook and rattled. He was the gamescape. He was in his zone now with sustenance beside him.

At times when the experience was too overwhelming, he paused the game by opening his hand to the sensor and a window opened in the screen. Through it a water bottle, a white towel and an electro-tray of assorted cold cuts and game-sponsored Encrusters projected in for his preset thirty seconds. Then it was on to the next level. He was on fire this morning and hoped to come as close to ‘winning’ this game as he ever had.

Once Ali00p saw that he was logged on there was only one thing to do. RAID! Pillage and raid!

‘Story mode or open world?’ He asked Ali.

‘Let’s get a bit of both.’ Ali00p’s words bounced through the speakers.

Ari visual-clicked the middle option and prepared to walk through the screen. He had done it a few times before so it was becoming second nature. Ari left his body and became his avatar. He was now Arist0. All the troubles of the mortal Ari fell away as Arist0 passed into Blockcraft. BC, more commonly, was a mod from DOTA3 where any of the catalogued five million odd gamescapes ever created could be the playing field for a team of at least two players to battle another team. They usually played as a team of three, Arist0, Ali00p and JJ32, which was generally accepted in the gamescape community to be the most effective strategy. Ari, now Arist0, had put together an indie expansion pack that made his avatar anti-meat boy, i.e. he was made completely of skin and therefore almost impossible to die. Or so he thought.

Once in, the two decided to join the billion other plugged in Blockcraft players engrossed on one or another battlefield. They picked an unpopulated area on the map where there was only a million or so players. Arist0’s special power was mind control, even though his brain was implausibly just made of skin. Ali00p had a hook that he could hold one of their opponents defenceless while the team unleashed their fury. He was kind of like a bully’s sidekick holding a weakling down. JJ32 was a merlin hedgehog Halfling with level seven magic spells. Together they made a pretty good team offensively and defensively… when they were a team.

Now they were only two players so they picked another two to battle: MultiUni and Slade9. It seemed like a pretty even match as they viewed this team in story mode. However, once they clicked into open world they saw it was a wolf trap. Another group of two, lemonTard1 and dr1p were waiting in the wings. It was too late to do anything once discovered. Health was suddenly low and it was a slaughter. Arist0’s skin was flayed. Ali00p’s hook was cut off. If only they had JJ32 to cast spells on these LOSERS!

The duo had to regroup and recharge their lives. When they finally were ready, they went back to work individually on each of the offenders. The first attack took planning. They found Slade9 in a chat room of all places and back in story mode. He was chatting up some local talent in the back of a noodle shop. Slade’s texts to the girls were vomit inducing. Once Arist0 patched off the chatroom’s safemode, right away Ali00p hit him out of nowhere with the hook. The girls and the rest of the customers scattered out into the rainy, cobblestone alley. Arist0 hit him with concurrent waves of mind control, then Ali00p with the hook again and so on until Slade9 was a blithering imbecile. Then Arist0 shot thoughtblocks from his mind that implanted the thought to destroy MultiUni, lemontard1 and dr1p one by one. Now they had Slade9’s massive Ionian battle axe on their side. It took a lot of time but over the course of five hours the three, then four, virtually murdered the cowards as they turned against themselves in as vindictive a fashion as possible. Arist0 and Ali00p were proud of decreasing their opponents’ powers and cachet among the universe of players in Blockcraft. GGS appeared on the screen. Followed by five more visual-typed GGSs. Good GameScape. Their work was done. Sleep was for the weak…

… waking to the alarm, however, at seven twenty-seven pm was not enough time. Getting out of bed that day was like staring at a ghost. Long shadows claimed the walkway to the bus. The old light was dying. Sleep almost arrived just as the COR bus did. And then the slump to the lockers, the fingers of the metal turnstile, the plastic swipe of the lanyard-chained-barcode through the computer precisely at eight as the nightshift began. It would be difficult to last the ten hours. The best way to do this would be just to glaze over and go into autopilot. Once an associate swiped in there is no way out-- short of faking an injury at CARE. Absolution came only at dawn. But that was a long way off. Ari didn’t want to waste his energy on stretching at the Quick 5.

The managers said that the seekers had to catch up to the packers. They had been doing much better than the seekers this week and were running out of product. This motivated him. It was contrived competition between the seeking and packing groups of COR. Ari got that, but it still mostly motivated him because he’d been up all night doing much of the same thing… just in a virtual world.

The managers ended their talk. They gave them the numbers. The goal was four hundred and eleven thousand, seven hundred and fifty-two units tonight, which would catch them up and put them ahead. They stretched together as one. They yelled out the numbers: 1,2,3,4,5… 1,2,3,4,5… 1,2,3,4,5…1,2,3,4,5…1,2,3,4,5… some were almost screaming to release their early-night aggression. Ari didn’t have the energy. They turned, picked up their guns, read them and departed for their designated level.

His legs were steel. Solid and heavy, they weighed on him, yet he pushed on until the first break. It was hallucinatory. Items faded in and out of his vision. Ari lost interest in them and then they snapped their importance only for the brief moment they were dropped into the tote. The importance of the tote was only until it was full. And the totes were only important until the break. The reality was that each of them was a group of molecules put together by the machine of desire and that his molecules, his machine of desire, was only a transporter for these manufactured lineaments of gratified desire. (random14)

He was holding a book in his hand baffled at the open page. Again some words were floating in front of him and this stopped his process path. He closed the book. The words The Works of William Blake were on the cover. There was a picture of a burning tiger. His feet burned in his company issued kevlar safety shoes. He would take them off at the break. The page was there again. The poem in front of him read:

What is it men in women do require? The lineaments of Gratified Desire.

What is it women do in men require? The lineaments of Gratified Desire.

He didn’t know what lineaments meant. Did this… this poetry … not only apply to men and women but also to games? Was the desire that made him play a lineament? Was whatever technology he wanted next only for the time being?

When the blessed break came, he went to the lunchroom instead of the sphere zone. Relief set in when he sat down at one of the glaring, white tables. He directly took off his sweaty, regulation, kevlar-toed shoes. COR had provided them, but they were already starting to wear on the bottom. He didn’t remember checking if the pair were new when he put them on the first time. They had smelled of glue. He couldn’t risk twisting an ankle or cramping his leg. He’d be no use then. Ari walked on one side and the heel slanted a bit. He viciously rubbed the soreness out of his feet again and again, cracking his toes to make them feel more alive, then promptly fell into a deep, burning sleep with his arms wrapped on the table.

After five minutes, he woke to her in front of him. She was writing in a notebook. He was not sure if it was still part of his dream or real so he reached out and touched her book. It was.

Her blue eye peeked over the top and her pen pointed at him, ‘Do you mind?’

‘Writing?’ He asked.

‘Yes’, of course she was writing. What else would she be doing? ‘It’s something I like to do.’

‘On your break?’ Ari said slowly as she became clearer under the fluorescent light. ‘What about?’ He questioned her sleepily again.

She put down her book and looked at the time on her wrist, then up at the digital clock on the wall. They only had another two minutes. Her azure eye trained on him. ‘There is not enough time to tell you in detail what I am doing and I’m not sure you would understand anyway. Suffice to say it is the reason you rub your feet and sleep-- the reason, the soreness and the balm. At least, one day it will be my balm, maybe all of ours.’

He was too tired for this right now. He rubbed his foot one last time and started to put his shoes back on. The smell from his socks subsided.

She jotted something down quickly and again looked directly at him. Her voice was penetrating.

‘There are only two ways to get out of this place. Do you know what they are?’

‘Die or quit,’ he offered. ’Or get fired. I guess that’s three isn’t it, or are you making another idle balm threat? Have you ever played Napalm Insanity? Now that’s a game.’

‘I mean to leave on our own terms. I’m talking about rising above all this,’ She waved her pen through the air to indicate the expanse of the futurehouse. ‘There are only two ways. Work hard or solve a problem. That’s it. I don’t work very hard because I’m trying to solve a problem.’

Ari, on the other hand, was wavering in and out. It finally dawned on him, the lineaments of what she was saying. But so what. Her pen and pad were already in the breast pocket of her COR workwear and she was rising to leave. He glanced at the clock. They only had a few seconds to get to the computer to swipe in. They couldn’t be late.

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